Photographer James Mollison reveals the variability of our uncanny human cousins in a stunning series of close-up portraits of the Great Apes.
The tight focus of his photographs forces us to look right into the eyes of gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, and orangutans of different ages and personalities. The portraits, which Mollison first released a few years ago, have resurfaced thanks to a post on the Accidental Mysteries photography blog.
Wondering how he got so close the apes? Mollison had a fascinating methodology for working with the chimps:
I would go up to them and kind of look in their arm hair and pretend I was looking for a flea, and then I'd make my way up to their chin. Then, I'd pull a hair, and they'd think I got a flea, so they'd stare at my finger to see what I'd taken off of them.
As they did, Mollison would snap their portrait, their eyes boring into his lens with intelligent intensity.
Though the animals he photographed were orphans of the bush meat and pet trade industries, Mollison was less interested in making a political point than a more existential one. "For me, the most interesting part of the portraits is that they get at the gray area between man and animal," he said.
Scientists have been probing the same grey region, albeit in different terms. Cognitive scientists want to know how apes of various types perceive individual faces under different circumstances.